By Gary Kalahar (Photo Courtesy Grande Golf Club)
A bad day with the putter usually spells bad news for a golfer. Greg Zeller found a way around that on Sunday.
Zeller simply nailed his approach shots close enough that putting was hardly a factor as he charged his way to victory in the Tournament of Champions on a chilly morning at the Grande Golf Club. Zeller carded a 2-over-par 74, good for a three-stroke margin over Dave Crandall. Cody Lysher’s 78 was good for third in the field of six in the season-ending tournament open to those who won local tournaments this year or finished in the top 10 on the Honor Roll points list.
The victory was Zeller’s record-tying sixth in the Tournament of Champions, matching the mark held by Bob Zimmerman and Steve Maddalena. He said the one-round format for the TOC doesn’t change the way he plays, but he does like the spot it falls on the calendar.
“I just try to play solid, don’t try to overhit anything,” he said. “Keep it in front of you, keep it where you can see it and you’re fine.
“This is a good time of year for me. I’ve been playing almost every day, and I’m in a good rhythm.”
The victory capped one of Zeller’s best seasons, as he also won the County Open and the City Senior Championship and finished second on the Honor Roll behind three-time tournament winner Logan Anuszkiewicz. Zeller also captured five titles on the Golf Channel Am Tour, which he said has improved his game as he approaches his 60th birthday in a week.
“The funnest thing I’m doing, though, is coaching the Jackson High boys golf team,” said Zeller, who will be coaching the Vikings for the third season this spring.
Zeller earned his victory by being the only player in the field to solve the Grande’s back nine. He carded an even-par 36 coming in, with Lysher next at 39 and everyone else at 40 or worse.
“It got windier as we played, and it just got more difficult,” Zeller said. “There are two par-5s where you have to hit two layup shots, and that’s more wind you have to deal with. There are a couple of tighter driving spots. And 16, 17 and 18 are not easy finishing holes. They just aren’t.”
Zeller’s 2-over 38 on the front nine came with eight pars and a double bogey on the par-4 7th, where he three-putted from three feet. He missed five birdie putts inside 12 feet.
“I hit the ball really well and didn’t putt well at all,” Zeller said. “The putter felt awkward all day. But I hit it close and had a lot of good opportunities.”
He finally broke through with a tap-in birdie on No. 10 and followed it with a birdie from five feet on the 11th. A bogey on No. 12 was erased with a birdie from six feet on No. 15, giving him plenty of cushion even after bogeys on the final two holes.